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Setting up to fail is a psychological manipulation performed on a target in which the target is given a task which is designed to fail as it has an unrealistic objective. The target will become stressed trying to achieve the impossible, particularly if under pressure. Once the task attempt has failed, the outcome can then be used as ammunition to discredit and blame the target. A variation on this is that an otherwise achievable objective is covertly sabotaged and undermined to make it unachievable. In particular, it is a well established workplace bullying tactic.[1][2][3]

"Going through the motions" is another application of setting up to fail, for example a sham investigation in which the findings conveniently fail to find any evidence of wrong doing by the authorities involved with setting up the investigation. For example, it has been argued that the 9/11 Commission was set up to fail - see criticism of the 9/11 Commission (set up to fail).[4]

See also


  1. Peyton PR Dignity at Work: Eliminate Bullying and Create a Positive Working Environment (2003)
  2. Rayner C, Hoel H A Summary Review of Literature Relating to Workplace Bullying Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology Volume 7, Issue 3, pages 181–191, June 1997
  3. Randle J Workplace Bullying in the NHS (2006)
  4. "9/11: Truth, Lies and Conspiracy Interview: Lee Hamilton". CBC News, Canada. August 21, 2006. Archived from the original on Jan 08, 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-28.

Further reading

  • Gil E Foster parents: set up to fail - Child abuse & neglect, Child Abuse and Neglect, 8(1), Pages 121–123 (1984)
  • Manzoni J Barsoux J Set-up-to-fail Syndrome: Overcoming the Undertow of Expectations (2007)
  • Pluto T False Start: How The New Browns Were Set Up To Fail (2004)
  • Urbaczewski A Moore JE Setting up to fail: the case of Midwest MBA - Success and pitfalls of information (1999)
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